Trio Balkan Strings is the guitar formation of Yugoslavian guitar legend and composer/producer Zoran Starcevic and sons Nikola -- composer and classical guitar teacher -- and junior Zeljko who also studies classical guitar. With 400-some songs under his belt, 10 solo guitar albums on which he explored numerous playing styles and of which he has sold hundreds of thousands in his native Serbia alone, Zoran's present release features all-original tunes and was self-produced and recorded in his digital studio in Belgrade.
There's never been anything quite like Guitares des Balkans before. Borrowing trills, mordents and appoggiaturas from Transylvanian violin and saxophone styles, interjecting those with odd-metered tunes from Serbia, Montenegro, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Turkey and Gypsies culture and occasionally augmenting them with very subtle background hand percussion, your internal aural compass needle goes haywire trying to lock to true North. That's how uniquely evasive the origin of this music turns out to be. The 7/8 and 11/8 rhythms suggest Macedonian rutchenitsa-derivatives but the guitar-only instrumentation plays mean tricks on you. Certain high-speed fret work suggests French Manouche music but the overall setting doesn't match. You hear Greek bouzouq elements but things don't exactly sound Greek either. "Rumunsko nebro" could be a musette waltz if it wasn't on four - but it swings and whirls as though it were on three. And so it goes until you give up any pathetic efforts of pigeon-holing and just board this magic carpet ride for the sheer hell of it.
Which, naturally, is the point of all music making unless you're an ethnomusicologist. Once you've hitched this ride and left your mind and shoes on the floor where they belong, you enter a lyrical, playful yet very smart world of advanced instrumentalists. If Ivo Papasov or Yuri Yunakov became guitarists and abandoned their popular focus on high-speed power riffing, this would be the general turf of their music. If Romane went East and got marked by a sexy vampire, that's what he might do on his Selmer. But until those impossible days, the Starcevic Trio holds the keys. How they manage bass accompaniment on regular acoustic guitars -- none of which in the cover image really look much larger than standard -- is beyond me. Naturally, that doesn't prevent them at all. It's this disregard for convention or easy explanations that's the biggest attraction here. This is a truly unique slice of guitar craft that any lovers of the instrument would do well to acquire. Call it Strunz & Farah do Eastern Europe. Very highly recommended.